The Secret Life of Pets Blu-ray Review

Secrets and Lies

When at its best, Secret Life of Pets is a guilt trip for dog people made by dog people. Pets understands what it means to be an owner, those highs and lows. It’s an observant bit of animated fiction, depicting how our pets reflect us, our individual personalities, and our lifestyles. In these vignettes, propelled by the lightest music and cheeriest images, Secret Life of Pets is a king among pet movies.

Those flashes of domestic brilliance come and go throughout the story. It’s a simple if sensational premise, depicting what pets do when we’re not around, arguably more sensible than bringing toys to life in the same circumstances. It’s cute, admittedly manipulative and safer still, but smart.

When Secret Life of Pets falls into the animated trap, fall hard it does. A routine adventure through an astonishingly more-beautiful-than-real-life New York comes with endless one-note pop-up characters. At its worst, the strong idea of flushed pets, those discarded critters living their days in the sewer, embody the weakest elements of contemporary animation. As villains, they’re poor. As characters, they’re effortlessly screechy and tiring, force feeding the film unstructured mayhem in the hunt for toy sales.

In only few moments does Secret Life of Pets live up to its promises…

Illumination, responsible for blabbering Minions which infested pop culture with their guilty pleasure style of idiocy, takes the same approach here. In the softer moments (and the same goes for Despicable Me) Illumination challenges Pixar for their ability to wring emotion from an audience. For whatever reason, whether box office or strict adherence to marketing testing, the concept of having reserved fun escapes them, dropping into the Minion act but with a rabbit.

It’s all right there for Secret Life of Pets, a showdown between Max (Louis C.K.) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet), two incompatible dogs forced to live together in a small New York apartment. Their cute indoor stand-off moves outside, rolling in the path of street cats, hot dog factories, pop music, and an unbearable finale on the Brooklyn Bridge which ruins the mindful plausibility of earlier. In only few moments does Secret Life of Pets live up to its promises, including the predictable if sweet, feel good final shot.

The inevitable question is why see one talking animal movie over another. Secret Life of Pets has its answer, because instead of using them to globe trot like Madagascar or plow through an alternate version of natural history in Ice Age, it’s using these animals to reflect a certain type of being – a pet owner, good ones/bad ones alike. Animation is a capable of being both splendid escapism or a powerful, reflective tool and Secret Life of Pets seems to want a bit of each in a small 80-minute frame.

The Secret Life of Pets Blu-ray screen shot 6

Video

New York never looked better in cinema. Yes, it’s an exaggerated, hyper real animated version, but good luck in hunting down a richer, cleaner, more idealistic version of the city. The numerous cityscapes saturate the color, and a fall setting means additional help comes from the changing trees. The looks is simply stupendous.

This also comes with extreme contrast, pure, bold images with striking clarity. It’s rare for animation to stand out to this degree a decade into the format’s life. We’re spoiled A/V consumers, yet Secret Life of Pets pulls those standards ever higher with a disc ready to beat down anything from Disney or Pixar.

Stylistically too, the incredible fur, swaying or poofing depending on the animal, is stunningly rendered by this disc. Absurd levels of fidelity pull out the shaggy coat of Duke or the finer hairs on a lost guinea pig. Even whiskers – no aliasing to report.

Secret Life of Pets is a disc worthy of endless praise. It’s everything expected visually by the most critical of home theater enthusiasts. Always bright, always saturated, and enormously detailed. It’s among the purest discs on the market.

Audio

Perfection lasts only so long. The Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 mix isn’t terrible. Strong channel transitions move around better than most. Support from the low-end is unusual for animation too; lots of excellent bass to consume.

Yet, it’s hard to recall a notable use of the additional back rear speakers. Mostly they’re for ambiance, filling in the city or other location. Action won’t travel outside of the (well used) stereos, and rear use is unusually subdued. Maybe the Atmos mix picks things up – I’m not equipped for such – while those with TrueHD set-ups get robbed of stronger mixing. Just a guess though.

Extras

Fleeting extras come in the form of five featurettes, the longest, The Humans Who Brought You Pets, coming in at 8:43, split into five parts to focus on different roles in production. Anatomy of a Scene wins simply for showing the processes going into a single, unspecified scene, from fur simulation to lighting. Five minutes doesn’t seem like enough. How to Make an Animated Film has the same idea, but from a broader perspective.

A funny grooming skit with Eric Stonestreet and brief look at the voice actors comes next. A few commercials and three shorts (along with the making of those shorts) come up last.

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process. Patreon supporters were able to access these screens early, view them as .pngs, and gain access to 16 Secret Life of Pets exclusives.